Mindset on being an Expat – Part II

We have resident status in both Ecuador and Panama and are US citizens. Between the two countries we have lived outside of the United States for almost 5 years. In that time we have learned many things, mostly the difference between the culture that we grew up in and the Central and South American cultures. The following is a general guideline that we try to live by:

First and foremost we are visitors. We can be asked to leave at any time. We try to be on our best behavior and don’t act like the “Ugly American”. I do not want to ruin it for anyone else.

Hats for sale on the Malecon

We treat people with respect and dignity and follow the rules and regulations that the government has in place.  We cannot vote until we are residents for five years, so we keep our political opinions to ourselves. Recently President Correa told everyone living on the coast to evacuate for their safety. It was a costly several days leaving town, but we did. We did this for our safety but, more importantly, we were TOLD that we needed to evacuate and so we did. Our role here is not to figure out “what we can get away with”

Young girl helping her mom clean the unit next door

The Ecuadorian people, government and local officials do not need us to tell them how it was done back in the states.

Rainbow over the water

If I felt the need to help I would volunteer by joining an Ecuadorian run group. It would not be my place to bitch about the way things were being run.  Local folks might actually know what they need better than us

Moon rising over the Alamar

It is not anyone’s fault if I fall into an open pit on the sidewalk except mine….I know the streets and sidewalks are less than perfect so I am responsible to watch where I am walking. In the states we were raised to believe that the government will take care of you, if you do something stupid you can just sue somebody else, if you leave your car out in the driveway with the keys in it the police will be responsible for it if it is stolen etc ….

Here personal responsibility rules. A friend in Panama said if you leave your bicycle on the porch and it is stolen it was your fault, including putting the idea in the mind of someone going by who could see it. It took us a while to wrap our minds around that one, but now we understand.  The idea that if a real estate deal does not work out exactly like you thought or how someone represented things to you, that you can always sue them –  does not work here. What are you going to do to the person who is down here acting as a realtor if he lied to you?  Have his license taken away? He probably doesn’t have one here.  Buyer beware, do your own research, measure twice, cut once and don’t be in too much of a hurry to do it right the first time

Helicopter arriving at the military base

I try very hard to be aware of my surroundings and would never consider walking several blocks behind our home in the middle of the night – it’s just common sense. I love it here but let’s be realistic.  I won’t lie about crime here. There is a big difference between accepting faults and pretending they don’t exist.

Sightseeing tram

We did a lot of research before we moved and decided that buying was not the best for us. And that we needed to be cautious of folks trying to rush you into buying something that is too good to be true – because it is probably just that – too good to be true. We also researched attorneys and would not do anything here without the help of one. A competent lawyer who can read the documents, explain the paperwork and keep you out of trouble is worth their fee.  Remember they know the laws of their country, let one help you. Cheap is not cheap if something goes wrong! Anyone can read the regulations and laws but the right attorney knows how the current government interprets and enforces them. We don’t.

We learned early on to ask “how much” before we get into a taxi. This saved us from occasionally paying $5 for a $2 trip. You can always say no before you get in, but you are kind of stuck once you arrive at your destination in the taxi. I have on occasion refused to pay $3 for what I know is a $2 taxi ride – I paid him what I know is the correct amount and walked away.

Free Coke during Easter week

We spent months researching Ecuador using Travel guides, expat forums and speaking to folks already living here. It gave us a basic understanding of the areas we were interested in.  Our research saved us a lot of headaches because we knew what to expect. One thing we did learn was just because a guide or anyone said something didn’t mean it was so. I guess we kept an open mind to other people’s opinions but waited until we saw it with our own eyes.

Police setting up for the last season weekend

We opened our hearts and embraced the cultural difference. The Ecuadorian people are wonderful and treat us like family. Mutual respect and tolerance seems to work for us.

Another beautiful sunrise

We learned not to “assume” anything. This is not Kansas, Dorothy- things are done differently here than the US. Do not show up with your bag of “Preconceived Notions” as they will not work here. There is no Denny’s , Walmart, Wendy’s Drive-thru etc. Many things are not better or worse, just different.

Catholic church in Chipipi

We also learned that we could not move to Ecuador until we had settled up in Panama. We could not move to Panama until we had settled up in the US. In other words we could not have one foot in one country and the other in the other country – we needed to cut the cord emotionally first. That does not mean that we would have to sell everything, denounce our state and country and leave never to return. But we needed to have the attitude that the new country is going to be our home instead of continuing to look back lusting for that other life.  If we felt that we cannot leave our country of origin behind then we should not have moved.  We would have been unhappy trying to make the new country into what we left behind. Constant comparison is not a good thing!

Chapel at Chipipe Catholic Church

There are many things that are not the same as where we came from. They will never be like back home. Keep in mind this is a developing country. We learned to be flexible, patient, and adopted the “tranquilo” attitude because that is what will work to make the transition. WE must be the ones to change, as we will not change this country or it’s people.

We are not telling anyone what to do, how to do it or preaching — this is just a list of things that we have learned that have helped us be better neighbors, better visitors and happier people while in this beautiful country. This is our personal journey and we thank you for sharing it.

29 thoughts on “Mindset on being an Expat – Part II

  1. Thanks for the information and insight on Salinas and Ecuador i really look forward to reading your posts, we are hoping to visit later on this year

  2. Great posts on Mindset of being and Expat!!! I totally agree with everything you have said, glad to see others with same points of view as my wife and I. We are looking forward to our Ecuador trip this year.

    • Hi Phill- Thanks again for reading about our adventures…This place can be wonderful but it all depends upon ones attitude. We are trying to be less attitudinal and more real in our old age!!!

  3. Nancy

    That is the best comment on how to be happy and get along in a different country (Developing or not–it doesn’t matter) that I have ever read.

    Gerald (Who is doing well in Med School in Cuba BTW) told me once, that I was the only person he had ever met who treated any one they met as an equal and as a “real” person and never looked down on anyone. I hadn’t thought of that before but it is true. I do it because I feel that way–not because I think it is a good thing to do.

    For those of you living or thinking about living among strangers in strange places (like the USA)…. even if you don’t feel that way–it is the safest way to act if you are alone and out numbered in a strange place.

    Keith in Panama

    • Hey Keith
      Thanks for reading our blog and thanks for being the person you are…Gerald was right you do have a wonderful attitude towards your fellow man. We both miss the time we were able to spend with you while we were in Panama, maybe one day our paths will cross again. Blessing on you and your life, Nancy & Joe

  4. Wow, thank you for both parts of Mindset. It is good to hear a real evaluation of live as an ex-pat in Ecuador. It hasn’t changed our minds about coming to Ecuador, but had given us prospective. Again, thanks.

    • Thanks Mike for reading our blog. Hope you pass through Salinas on your visit to EC we would love to meet you. Nancy & Joe

  5. Wonderful commentary, Nancy. We moved from South Africa to the USA with that same attitude. After 16 years of being here, we are ready to move again and bring out same attitude with us – fit in or …. don’t! We prefer to fit in and never whine about how it was back in … (insert country here). Yes, things are different, but that is what one wants … different. Love your writings, as usual.

    • Good Morning Leigh, thanks again for reading our blog and for your comments. Keep in touch about your plans. Nancy & Joe

  6. Pingback: Morning Update – Sunday, May 8, 2011 « South of Zero

    • Thanks Mary for your comments.. We are just trying to be good residents and we hope our footprint shows kindness and thoughtfulness when we are gone!

  7. I love this post and really respect the attitude of humility you bring with you to this country that welcomed us as guests.

    • Sue thanks for reading and commenting. We want to make this the best time of our lives, while fitting in as much as any foreigner can!

  8. Nancy,

    This is an excellent post. It would be wonderful if every foreigner living here had the same philosophy. How lucky Ecuador is to have you and Joe living here.

    • Nancy & Chuck – Igualmente! — we know you share some of the same thoughts and you are right it is so refreshing to see us “visitors” try to fit in instead of trying to change things,

  9. Thank you so much for this article. Very imformative and “real”. I plan to be in Salinas for a short time end of May. When in Rome do as the Romans do!

    • Good Morning Bob- First thanks for reading our blog and thanks for your comment. Hope to see you around town at the end of May. Nancy & Joe

  10. I disagree with the part ” First and foremost we are visitors. We can be asked to leave at any time.”
    We are at home in Ecuador, when we go to USA – after a week there, we are homesick for Quito. I asked my girlfriend who lives in Ecuador for 10 years – how she consider herself – her immediate response was – it is my home.
    according to the dictionary – visitor:a person who pays a visit; caller, guest, tourist, etc
    When one consider her/him a visitor who can be “asked to leave at any time”
    one’s life is uncertain, on hold.

    • Good Morning Liliya – thanks for your comments. We do consider ourselves “at home” in Salinas and in Ecuador. And we do not consider our life on hold, we are enjoying each day with passion and joy because we have been allowed to have this most excellent adventure. But we only have resident status not citizenship status and there is a big difference. We treat this city, our apartment and the people around us with the respect and dignity that all deserve. Some people can act like visitors in a bad way, not respecting the culture, laws and people. I just think we have less right to complain until we have walked a mile in the locals shoes. If we crap it up we can always leave, that is not an option for the folks who’s lives we have altered in a negative way. I guess what I am trying to say is we need to use our Company Manners while living in any foreign country, because how we handle ourselves is a direct reflection on all Expats and our actions good and bad will color the way the locals look at all Expats. We want our actions not to negatively impact the folks that follow us to this beautiful country.

      Joe reads your comments on the boards and you have been a great help to us in the year we have been here and the year before during our planning stage. Your enthusiasm and honesty are always refreshing to read. Thanks again for your comment, Nancy & Joe

  11. Nancy, I’ve been reading your blogs about the local scene in Salinas for some time now & always look forward to the next one. But you have deviated & done some serious writing in this two-part series on Ex-pat thinking. It’s you putting your thoughts on paper – an author. If you were interesting before, your latest gets to the essence of why most people come to a forum like this. Thanks for your thought-provoking series. Keep it up . . . you’re really going places now!

    • Hi Eric – thanks for reading our blog. Being an Expat has been sometimes challenging, sometimes frustrating but all the time fascinating. I guess my “Mindset” series has been developing for the past 5 years but it took me up until now to put all those thoughts down on paper (well into the computer). It’s a compilation of things that have happened to us on this wonderful journey. I will be posting the last in the series in the next day or so, let’s see how many people get upset with that one…not that I want anyone upset, just to get people thinking. Living outside of the US has been a “real wild ride” that can be good or bad depending upon your outlook and attitude about life itself. Again thanks for your comments. Nancy & Joe

  12. Hola Nancy, mychas gracias por apreciar mi pais, tus notas y comentarios me hacen sentir buen anfitrion, saludos a tu esposo.

    • Dear Eduardo, We truly have enjoyed our time in Salinas and all of Ecuador. We spent time in Quito and Puerto Lopez before settling here. I think the good feelings we get come from how wonderful the people have been. Accepting us for all our failings especially when it comes to the language. We make up for it with our appreciation for all things Ecuador, like the food. You have some wonderful cooks here in this country. The other night Joe took me downstairs to Lov n Oven and Alfredo made me a shrimp dish with coconut milk, it was out of this world. Between the food of Manibi with the Mani and the folks from Esmereldas area with the encocado I have a very hard time deciding what to choose!
      Thanks for reading our blog and also for your comments.

  13. Hi,

    Very good blog! May I ask why the gov’t asked everyone to evacuate the coast?

    Also, you mention it is peaceful but not quiet. Good distinction. Is it possible to find quiet, or is the lack of zoning a major difficulty?

    Finally, it is not clear to me where you finally settled. Could you mention it?

    • Good Morning Jim – thanks for your comments. After Japan’s major earthquake we were in the way of a sunami so President Correa had a mandatory evacuation of the coast of Ecuador.

      As to the Peaceful vs Quiet issue, your neighbors may decide to play their music at 7am or 2am, this is not a place where you would call the police to make a complaint. I mentioned that this is a “live and let live” kinda place, that means if you want to play your music no one is going to say a word. We actually have had no problems with neighbors in our building, but we did have Pinquino Fun Park all season, loud music from 10am until 10pm Saturday and Sundays for about 7 weekends. While living in Panama we moved into a single family home in an old neighborhood with OLD neighbors, love them all and NO music in the middle of the night but we also lived one block from the Church Plaza where they held carnival — by the 4th year Joe and I went out of town, the music would start at 10am and go until 5am the next morning then start all over again at 10am this went on for five days…we were crazy by the end and I was drinking Tinto Vino at 10am

      FYI President Rafael Correa has implemented a curfew for the country 12 midnight on weekdays and 2am on weekends – the partying would go on until almost dawn before we moved here.

      We settled in Salinas.

  14. Hola Nancy, estoy viendo que tu blog es muy famoso! eso me alegra, a mi y a mi esposa nos agrada mucho compartir con extranjeros como tu y quienes escriben aqui, si en algun momento necesitas, pongo a tu disposicion mi suv para hacer conocer a tus amigos este sector de mi pais, sera un placer llevarlos a los distintos sitios de la zona.
    saludos para ti y tu esposo (aun no tengo el gusto de conocerlo)

    • Edwardo, Gracias por su amable ofrecimiento. En este momento no estamos en necesidad de su SUV, pero se tiene en cuenta en el futuro. Espero que todo está bien con los dos. Nancy

  15. Hi Nancy,

    Many thanks for the kind and thoughtful reply! This sounds a lot like Mexico. Latins love to party, but in addition, the country pretty much floats on alcohol over the weekends. Noise and neighbors are very important factors in choosing the place to settle. Always a good a idea to rent first and really get to know the area.

    All good wishes,


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